January 26, 2022


Accounting + Finance Blog

Meaning of Flat File Model and its Problems

Meaning of Flat File Model and its Problems

The flat-file model is an accounting information system model that was available in the 1960s and 1980s. This model has four problems that can affect decision-making among departments or functions in an organization. This article explains this AIS model.

Definition of Flat File Model

The flat-file model is often called a legacy system. One reason for this is that it is from this model data is transferred to the modern-day data processing system model. A flat file model can be defined as an AIS model that allows each department or function to own its data file instead of sharing them.

This implies that when an update is required on a file, it must be updated by every department that owns a copy of the file. A problem here is that if a particular department is unaware of the changes to the file, it might use the outdated information available to make the wrong decision.

READ ON  Centralized Data Processing System in AIS

Read: Manual Process Model Meaning and Importance

Flat file models can be explained using the accounting, marketing, and recovery department in a trading organization. Let’s use the customer file as an example. Assuming a change in address necessary for a customer. If the changes were made only in the accounting and marketing department, the recovery team may make the wrong decision of going to the wrong address to recover the debt.

Problems of Flat File Model

There are four major problems with the flat file model. John Hall states these problems like data storage, data updating, the currency of information, and task data dependency.

Data Storage. The problem with the flat file model here is that data has to be stored multiple times. Every department that requires the data must store them in their user environment. Whereas, efficient data storage must store data only once. Storing data in multiple places means more costs to the organization. Costs will be incurred for multiple collections and multiple storages of such data.

Data updating. The organization may need to update all stored files from time to time. In doing so, all the master files in various departments must be updated as well as individual files in all departments must be updated. Thereby adding to the cost of managing data in the organization.

READ ON  Meaning of Distributed Data Processing System in AIS

Currency of information. A department or function may fail to update its data file. The department(s) may not be aware of the update and therefore do not update their file. This will result in relying on outdated information in making decisions. In the above example, the recovering department failed to update its data for a customer address. This led the recovery team to pay transport expenses to the wrong address.

Task-data dependency. If a user needs more information to make an informed decision in a flat-file model, he or she must get that information independent from other departments. Users in the various departments or functions cannot depend on each other for data.

For example, if the accounting department needs data of customers based on geography, it has to source the information itself. Whereas, this data is readily available in the marketing department. This will result in a wastage of time, more data redundancy, and makes the costs of data management higher.

READ ON  Five key differences between AIS and MIS


The flat-file model allows every user to have its own data set. Therefore, every user in their various departments has the required information it needs to make a decision. However, this leads to high costs for data storage and updating data. In addition, users may rely on outdated information as a result of failing to update department files.